Will birtherism ever go away?

In this Dec. 21, 2011 file photo, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to the media in Phoenix. AP

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
AP

News Analysis

(CBS News) Sometimes, when you want to believe something badly enough, no amount of evidence to the contrary will change your mind.

To understand how this plays out, consider the subset of Americans who still identify as "birthers." Birthers are people who express their dislike of President Obama by arguing - forcefully - that he was not born in the United States, and is thus not eligible for the presidency.

Some birthers were finally disabused of that notion when President Obama, whose birth had been announced in two Hawaii newspapers and who had already released his short-form birth certificate, released his long-form birth certificatelast April. The percentage of Americans who said Mr. Obama was born outside the United States fell from 20 percent before the release to 10 percent afterward. But even then, one in ten Americans held tight to their birtherism, showing a remarkable willingness not to let the facts get in the way of their convictions.

The birthers made their presence felt once again on Thursday. A conservative reporter tracked down a 1991 promotional booklet from a literary agency in which Mr. Obama was listed as having been "born in Kenya." Conservative news aggregator Matt Drudge gave the report huge play, leading his site with it Thursday evening. He followed up Friday with a series of links tied to the story, including one asking, "How did the mainstream media miss this?"

The literary agent responsible for the listing released a statement in the wake of the story reading in part, "This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me -- an agency assistant at the time. There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii."

But that, of course, was not going to placate those eager to seize on the 1991 listing as a smoking gun proving their theory. Interestingly, the website that posted it, Breitbart.com, seemed uncomfortable with putting it into the world - it said in a note above the article that it "has never advocated the narrative of 'Birtherism,'" arguing that the listing is evidence "not of the President's foreign origin, but that Barack Obama's public persona has perhaps been presented differently at different times."

That rather tortured interpretation is not what many of the commenters took from the article, as this comment illustrates: "a f***ing kenyan interloper bastard... I KNEW IT!"

Birtherism also reared its ugly head in Arizona on Thursday, with the state's Secretary of State Ken Bennett suggesting he may keep the president off the ballot in November if he can't prove his citizenship. As Talking Points Memo reported, Bennett told a talk radio host on Thursday evening that he is trying to get Hawaiian state officials to verify that the birth certificate released by the president is authentic. He insisted that he is not a birther, but that his "responsibility as secretary of state is to make sure the ballots in Arizona are correct and that those people whose names are on the ballot have met the qualifications for the office they are seeking."

Bennett was following up on an investigation by Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, the hard-line opponent of illegal immigration who has been suedby the Justice Department over allegations of racial profiling and who is facing a grand jury probe over potential abuse of power. Arpaio said his five-member volunteer "Cold Case Posse" found "that the long form birth certificate was manufactured electronically and that it did not originate in the paper format as presented by the White House."

Birther claims are the logical outgrowth of a persistent argument on the right that the mainstream media failed to fully "vet" then-candidate Obama when he ran for president. To quote Brietbart.com's careful semi-disclaimer: "[T]he complicit mainstream media had refused to examine President Obama's ideological past, or the carefully crafted persona he and his advisers had constructed for him." A legitimate argument can certainly be made that Mr. Obama got better treatment from the mainstream media than, say, Hillary Clinton or John McCain. But the birthers' claims have been debunked by a plethora of news outlets - "investigations" like Arpaio's notwithstanding - and there is simply no way a dispassionate consideration of the evidence could result in the conclusion that Mr. Obama is not constitutionally eligible to lead the country.

But that isn't going to stop the birthers, who invariably respond to the overwhelming evidence against their claims by alleging that biased news outlets are simply covering for the president for their own nefarious purposes. For a sampling of their vitriol, look no further than what will soon appear in the comments section below.

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